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What is the IELTS Exam?

IELTS stands for the International English Language Testing System. It is a standardised test for testing and measuring the language proficiency of people who wish to work and study in a country where English is used as a major language to fulfill the purposes of communication and teaching. The candidates taking the test are scored on a 9-band grading scale to clearly determine the levels of their proficiency. A score in band 1 depicts a non-user while a score in band 9 depicts an expert (in English).

There are two types of the IELTS Test:

what is ielts exam types

1.IELTS Academic

The IELTS Academic test is taken by students and research scholars who wish to continue further studies in foreign universities. IELTS is widely recommended and accepted by almost every major university all across the world. The reason behind its wide acceptance is the fact that the curriculum and test structure reflects features of academic language and assesses whether a candidate is absolutely prepared to begin studying or training.

2.IELTS General Training

The IELTS General Training Test is usually taken by students and professionals who wish to go to a majority English-speaking country for the purpose of a secondary education degree, professional work, or training. It is a requirement that needs to be fulfilled in order to move to Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom. The basic skills that the scores of this test aim to determine include survival skills in social and workplace settings.

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Some key features of the IELTS Exam include the following:

  1. The exam is fair to all and does not classify students based on culture. It invites and accepts people from all backgrounds and does not create any bias between the standard variations of the English language all across the world. Native speakers and dialects of Australian, North American, British, and New Zealand English are given equal importance.
  2. The IELTS exam is extremely widely available all across the world in over 16000 centers. In the United States alone, the exam is available in more than 50 locations.


what is ielts exam format

The IELTS aims to test a candidate in 4 main abilities: Listening, Reading, Writing and Speaking in English. The duration of the exam is 2 hours and 45 minutes.

The listening, reading and writing sections of the test must be taken on the same day without any breaks. The speaking section however can be taken separately upto a week before or after your actual test.

The date and time of your speaking section depends largely on your test centre. Also, the reading and writing sections of the test is what makes the major difference between the IELTS academic and IELTS general training tests.

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The detailed description of each section is given below:


what is ielts exam listening

The duration of the listening test is 30 minutes. During this section, a candidate is required to carefully listen to four recordings of conversations among native-English speakers. There will be a total of 40 questions in this section, each carrying 1 mark. The tasks will be of the following types:


  • Multiple choice
  • Matching
  • Plan, map and diagram labeling
  • Form, note, table, flow-chart,
  • summary completion
  • Sentence completion
  • Short answer questions


The duration of the reading test is 60 minutes. There will be a total of 40 questions again, each carrying 1 mark. The various reading skills that are tested in this section include reading for gist, main ideas and details.

It also tests a candidate’s ability to skim through a piece of writing, understand the logic behind an argument and also correctly determine the tone of the piece and the opinions and purpose of the writer behind writing it.

The reading sections of the academic and general training tests are significantly different. The details of the tasks can be found below:

what is ielts exam reading


The task types of the academic test, with three reading passages, include – multiple choice; identifying information; identifying the writer’s views or claims; matching information, headings, features and sentence endings; sentence, summary, note, table, flow-chart and diagram label completion; and short answer questions.

Most of the writing pieces in this section are chosen from books, magazines, journals and newspapers. The texts do not pertain to any particular field of interest and are extremely general in nature to accommodate every student.

General Training:

The General Training test consists of three sections. While the types of tasks remain the same, the contents of the three pieces vary significantly.

The first section is based on ‘social survival’ and includes a notice, advertisement, or timetable. The second section is based on ‘workplace survival’ and includes job descriptions, contracts, training materials, and staff development techniques. The third section was based on ‘general reading’ and includes writings from newspapers, magazines, fictional and non-fictional books.


The duration of the writing section is also 60 minutes. The details of the academic test and general training test are given as follows:

what is ielts exam writing


The academic test consists of 2 tasks and there is no choice between them. In the first task, candidates are required to describe a visual representation in the form of a graph, table, chart or diagram, in their own words.

Candidates are expected to write 150 words in 20 minutes here. For the second task, they must respond to an argument pr problem. For the second task, test takers are expected to write 250 words in 40 minutes approximately.

General Training:

The general training test also consists of 2 tasks that need to be completed in 60 minutes.

The first task requires the examinees to write a letter requesting information or explanation and the second task requires the examinees to write an essay in response to an argument or problem.

In this section, students are marked on their task achievement, coherence, lexical resource and grammar usage.


The speaking section of the IELTS is fairly easy and can be completed in less than 15 minutes. This section is actually in the form of an oral interview with an examiner. The three tasks in this section are described below in details:

what is ielts exam speaking

A.For the first task, the examiner asks the test taker general details about themselves like their home, family, work, studies, hobbies, etc. This task takes about 4-5 minutes.

B.For the first task, the examiner asks the test taker general details about themselves like their home, family, work, studies, hobbies, etc. This task takes about 4-5 minutes.

C.The third task is nothing but an extension of the second task where the examiner asks more questions and discusses abstract ideas with the test taker. This task lasts for another 5 minutes approximately.

Students are marked based on their fluency, coherence of thoughts, pronunciation, vocabulary and grammar.


As mentioned earlier, the IELTS grades test takers on a 9-band scale. The scores of the IELTS test are valid for 2 years.

The final IELTS band grade is a cumulative average of your scores in all the four sections of your test. Regardless of the difference in nature, both types of tests are graded on the same 9-band scale. If the average of the 4 components ends with 0.25, the band score is rounded off to the next half band (.5) and if it ends with 0.75, the band score is rounded off to the nearest whole band(.0).

For each section, scores are reported in whole and half bands. All the criteria mentioned above are weighted equally and the final component band in an average of all the weights.

The nine bands are graded as follows:

9: Expert user
8: Very good user
7: Good user
6: Competent user
5: Modest user
4: Limited user
3: Extremely limited user
2: Intermittent user
1: Non user
0: Did not attempt the test


what-is-ielts-exam how to prepare for ielts

For preparation, one must familiarize themselves with the format of the test. You must know and understand all the tasks and their types. There are several official sample test questions available on the IELTS website that one can go through while preparing.

There are official IELTS practice materials available for purchase (with CDs or DVDs). It would be extremely helpful if one studies directly from the official sample material as it gives them a clear and proper idea of the test and the types of questions they should expect.
There are several external agencies that prepare students for IELTS.

They provide their own study material.


IELTS is definitely one of the best tests that one can take to prove their proficiency in English. The test fee varies across test centres but usually stays within the $225-$250. In India, British Council charges about Rs. 14000 for both the paper based and the computer based tests (academic and general training).

The British Council also offers a scholarship, IELTS Awards, based on your test scores. The prize money for this award ranges between £3000 and £10,000 depending upon the tuition fee of the institution chosen by the winner.

The eligibility criteria that one must fulfill in order to be considered for this award includes being over 18 years of age, having a minimum band score of 6.5 in every component, must have taken the test at a German British Council Centre and must have received an acceptance letter with no plans of deferring admission. The minimum fees of the chosen programme must be£3000 in order to be eligible for consideration.

The IELTS test is a standardized test for admission that is accepted worldwide. One can easily score well in this exam with a little hard work and consistency. Developing an early habit of reading contributes greatly to the preparation for the test.







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